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How to Be a Digital
Ansel Adams
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I was remarking to myself this weekend that if I saw "How to Be a Digital Ansel Adams" one more time on the cover of my favorite photo magazine, Outdoor Photographer, that I was going to puke.

Lo and behold, the next day, Outdoor Photographer arrives, and that's what it says — again — on the front cover.

Actually, someone did a survey at the magazine, and half the respondents said that Ansel Adams would be shooting film today anyway, so maybe that's why the cover said "Be a Modern Ansel Adams" instead of "be a digital..."

Anyway, as usual, the magazine went on to talk about what gear The Master might use today.

So?

People forget that Ansel Adams is an artist, not a technician. That means that He does what He does because he is excited about what He is photographing. Ansel did what He did because He loved the land. He lived in Yosemite, and spent His time hiking and camping all over the place. His work is what it is precisely because of His involvement with the subject, not anything to do with the Zone System.

If you ask the President of the United States to speak on something like national security or economic policy, you'll get enthusiastic, interesting responses. If the President were to speak on something he found boring, like maybe knitting, do you think anyone would care to listen? Of course not.

Art or anything is interesting if its creator is excited about what he's trying to show or tell you. On the other hand, if I assign you to give a lecture on something you find boring, for instance, your office job, it will be boring. If you speak on something that excites you, then it will be an interesting talk.

It's the same way with photographs. If you shoot something about which you're not completely passionate, then the photos will show your lack of concern, and no one will find them interesting either. If you're not completely gaga over being outside and camping and hiking three hours in the dark at 3AM to get in someplace to setup before dawn, your work isn't going to be interesting enough to get on the cover of Outdoor Photographer, regardless of your camera. (I love Outdoor Photographer for its art articles; I skip the gear articles.)

Photography and art are all about discovering what excites you, and showing it to us as you see it. It's all about sharing your excitement with us.

Ansel's work is exciting because He was all about the land. It was the excitement in His photos that was able to show the city-slickers in Washington D.C. how valuable were these lands, and His work was instrumental in turning many of these into national parks.

Ansel was an artist. It makes no difference what sort of camera or paper He used. What matters is that He was deadly serious about how much He loved what he was showing us, and regardless of the equipment at hand, He would have kept working at it until the final result conveyed the feelings He needed to share.

Ansel Adams used all sorts of gear. In His early days, it was an 8x10" view camera. For most of His life, He got lazy, and worked with much smaller Hasselblads, and even Polaroids. Today, who knows and who cares?

What is critical is to be passionate, and I mean deadly passionate, not just saying-it-on-your-resumé passionate, about whatever it is you're doing.

If you seriously dig what you're doing, your photos will show it, and you'll naturally do whatever it takes to get the results you demand.

If you think you can just buy whatever's advertised in some magazine and that great works will usher forth, well, that's why you'll spent the rest of your life researching cameras instead of making great photos.

Being passionate about photography, cameras and technique gets you nowhere. All it does is make you a geek. Being excited by something worth showing, and then showing it to us, is what makes great photos.

 

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Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

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